UK Biobank was initially conceived as a platform for studies of gene environment interaction in major chronic diseases of older age, such as cancer, stroke, MI and diabetes. Towards the end of the study, the UKBB steering committee advised the broadening of the scope of the study to include more detailed examination of participants, including assessment of physical fitness, brain and cardiac imaging, as well as an examination of eyes and vision. Moorfields Eye Hospital and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology in London developed the eye and vision module. The core funding for the examination was provided by the Wellcome Trust, The Medical Research Council and The Department of Health. Additional support for training, implementation and quality control came from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital.
117,649 people took part in the basdeline eye and vision component of UK Biobank, undergoing modified logMAR visual acuity testing on a computerized system developed specifically for UK Biobank, autorefraction and keratometry (Tomey RC-5000), as well as measurement of intraocular pressure on a Reichert ORA Ocular Response Analyser, which returns measures of Goldmann equivalent intraocular pressure (IOP), corneal hysteresis, corneal resistance factor and IOP adjusted for corneal biomechanical properties. A smaller number (68,151) underwent simultaneous colour retinal photography, together with spectral domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) in both eyes. During the data collection phase of UKBB, the Image Reading Centre at Moorfields provided a rapid turn-around quality assurance service for the macular photos and OCT images, finding them to be of high quality, compared with other studies using similar methodology. This large scale, well-curated eye data, together with accompanying extensive phenotyping of all major organ systems, make the UK Biobank eye and vision dataset unique worldwide.
Eye and vision researchers around the UK have formed a consortium involving clinicians and academics from around the UK, incorporating Belfast, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Dundee, Edinburgh, Gloucester, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Southampton, St Andrews, Warwick and several London centres (Brunel, Imperial, Kings, Moorfields, UCL, St Georges). The consortium interacts using UK Universities JISCMail email list server. The group meets in February each year for a day-long programme of planning, discussion and debate. This has led to the formation of groups working on various aspects of data, including visual acuity, refractive error, intraocular pressure, retinal vascular characteristics, genetics and outcomes adjudication and monitoring. Multiple publications have ensued, with two major genetics studies in press in Nature Genetics.